I got a positive COVID-19 antibody test. What do I do with that?

COVID-19
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I've had COVID-19.

At least, I'm pretty sure I did. I was never actually able to get tested when my husband and I got sick back in March to know for sure.

But we had a feeling. He'd gotten a fever while I'd had the cough with a weird burning sensation in my throat. Both of us felt exhausted.

Otherwise, the only noteworthy thing about our symptoms was when I tried to use Vicks Vaporub and we realized we'd both completely lost our sense of smell.

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Tina Reed, executive editor

So in late April, almost immediately after new direct-to-consumer antibody tests became available, I signed up to buy one for about $130. Turns out, they were pretty popular: I wasn't able to actually schedule an appointment for a blood test until May 13.

RELATED: Quest Diagnostics launches first consumer-ordered COVID-19 antibody test

To be honest, I almost canceled the appointment several times. There are serious questions surrounding antibody testing and their accuracy. (For its part, Quest says the tests they use are from Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, Abbott and Euroimmun, which have reported specificifities to the FDA of 100%, 99.6%, and 100%.)

There are questions about what we can actually glean from them even if they are accurate.

"Whether this is the ticket for someone to go back to work [based solely on an antibody test result], my opinion on that would be no," FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told reporters, NPR reported.

It felt like a waste of my money. Yet, curiosity won out. 

Everyone else I'd told about the antibody test was intrigued, peppering me with questions about how I was able to get an antibody test and asking me about what it might mean. 

On the day of my appointment, I went down to a local Quest Diagnostics location and signed into a digital kiosk. Four other people sat in the small waiting room and I chose a chair in the far corner, dousing my hands in hand sanitizer while attempting not to touch anything. 

Minutes later, I'd given a small vial of blood, signed a paper, and was on my way. It'd taken more time to find a parking space. Less than 24 hours later, I had my results. 

Clicking into the MyQuest online portal where it said SARS-COV-2 AB IGG Immune Response, there it was written in big, block, red letters: POSITIVE.

My immediate reaction was relief. According to this document, I've likely had COVID-19 and was fortunate enough to be one of the folks who had a case so mild as to barely even realize it. I might have some level of immunity and perhaps be less likely to spread it to others. Maybe I could be among the first to actually go back into the office rather than feeling trapped at home every day. And, as Quest Diagnostics pointed out, I may be able to provide plasma for an investigational therapy for ill patients, called convalescent plasma.

But, as expected, I also felt confused.

There was a whole list of disclaimers that accompanied this test.

We don't know for sure if I developed immunity to the virus just because I had the antibodies, they warned. We also don't know how strong that immunity will be or how long that immunity will last if I did have it.

Finally, the kicker (which was required by the Food and Drug Administration): "False positive results for the test may occur due to cross-reactivity from pre-existing antibodies or other possible causes."  A doctor from the lab assured me over the phone that while the test has limitations, it likely is accurate. But, he told me, that doesn't mean I should stop being careful.

What am I suppose to do with that?

For starters, I'm telling everyone I know about this positive test. As I gave my friends and family the update—many who have been lucky enough not to have not been touched personally by COVID-19 yet—I could see the genuine surprise and concern.

This virus had been in their socially distanced midst. (At least, we think it was.) 

I thought back myself to when I'd only been mildly ill. I've been careful to stay away from people and I've been wearing a mask outside as not to spread illness. But was I careful enough?

If nothing else, I hope it serves as a good wakeup call to stay vigilant.

And at some point, I hope we'll get to the point where we can trust the tests and we do know if we have immunity after fighting the virus. It would be terrific if we could offer 'immunity passports" to help open up the economy and identify those who might be safe to help lead the way. For now, the science simply isn't there ... yet.

Bottom line: I got the antibody test.

Does it change anything for me? Probably not.